How many species have I observed this year? The malicious eBird answers: only 186! Yuck! Yes, I know, I’ll reach 190, but 200? No way. Not with these prices of petrol.

What have I missed? Hmm, Black-throated Diver (a.k.a. Arctic Loon), Lesser Black-backed Gull, Middle Spotted Woodpecker and Goldcrest should easily make 190, although the pecker is a bit uncertain.

Hence, the first stop becomes Mt. Avala, south of the city. Oddly, in 1936 this mountain was declared a national park, the first in Serbia, but in 1946 it was stripped of its title and got a lower protection status, further confirmed in 2007. Officially a mountain, it is more of an oversized hill than a true mountain. Still, things get very different – birdwise – at the top of it (511 m / 1676 ft), with all those planted conifers. I remember once driving up Avala through mild rain, only to enter a snow-falling cloud at the very top.

A very noisy Common Buzzard suggests that I stop the car, only to find a mixed party of tits and finches foraging bare branches for food. And among them, a treecreeper. Having two possibilities, either a commoner Short-toed or more of a mountain species or a winter visitor, the Eurasian Treecreeper, I am desperately trying to see the wingtip spots and notches (under ideal conditions, it works). But the bird does not bother to linger anywhere for more than a second! Eventually, I notice a longer and more prominent white supercilium of the eastern, familiaris race of the Eurasian Treecreeper and an unexpected addition to my list.

Mountain-top conifers will bring species such as Coal Tit and Brambling, and one more surprise, a Firecrest (it being predominantly a mountain species so far south, I was counting on a commoner Goldcrest). Going down the northern slopes, I stop; not because I’ve seen or heard anything, but simply because the shoulder was wide enough to park. And immediately, I hear a woodpecker looking for food. A pecker I could not see, only occasionally hear… I almost wrote “woodpecker sp. 1” when in the very corner of eyesight field I noticed some movement. Large. And black. The largest of European peckers – the uncommon Black Woodpecker! My list is now at 189, such an unfinished figure.

cmiroslavmaresEurasian Wren © Miroslav Mares

Looking for Eurasian Bullfinches, a few days later I find myself in one of the largest parks of Belgrade, the Zvezdara Forest. As expected, three Goldcrests were waiting for me, together with Eurasian Wren (a common one, yes, but somehow I missed it till now) and a total surprise, a flock of 40 Common Cranes migrating above the forest! Now, the list is equally unfinished, standing at 192! Still, no bullfinches… yet.

It is time to check the Danube and see which goodies it may bring. I was about to go to a Lesser Black-backed Gull site, when a friend texted me that a loon has been spotted at the confluence of the Sava and the Danube rivers. Red-throated Diver it turns out to be (and likely two of them), an easy #193, and from there I move to Ada Huja promenade and equally easy Lesser Black-backed Gull (I know where they rest after lunch). And the list is now 194. Yuck! Can I get 6 more birds?

That awful eBird says that I have good chances for two more: Middle Spotted Woodpecker and Bullfinch; followed by an additional eight locally possible species: Long-tailed Duck (that one is a rarity!), Short-toed Treecreeper (yes), Red-necked Grebe (hard), Bearded Tit (possible), Meadow Pipit (annoyed that I haven’t found any yet), Stock Dove (the same – personal reminder: check large flocks of Common Wood Pigeons), Black-throated Diver (yes) and the Waxwing (in recent Waxwing winters, they did not bother to come all the way to Belgrade, preferring to stay further north).

The question now is, can I possibly find six more birds of Christmas without significantly increasing my petrol costs?

Cover photo: Red-throated Diver © Slobodan Panjkovic

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Written by Dragan
Dragan Simic is obsessively passionate about two things – birding and travelling in search of birds, and that has taken him from his native Balkans to the far shores of Europe and the Mediterranean, southern Africa, India and Central America. His 10,000 Birds blog posts were Highly Commended in the International Category of the 2015 BBC Wildlife Blogger Awards. Birder by passion and environmental scientist by education, he is an ecotourism consultant, a field researcher and a bird blogger who always thinks that birding must be better behind that next bend in the road, and that the best bird ever is – the next lifer. He tweets as @albicilla66